How to Say Yes to Trump

Can Israel say yes to Donald Trump and embrace the One State Solution without forfeiting its Jewish identity or compromising its democratic values?  Yes!  Indeed, absolutely yes!  But to do so, Israel will be required to replace its electoral system of proportional representation with something akin to the system of American Federalism, nothing more, but also nothing less.

Proportional representation treats the entire Jewish state as if it occupies just one undifferentiated congressional district.  Within this sprawling and unbounded district, politics do not divide into matters high and low.  Issues that are inconsequential to the sovereign authority of the State, to its identity as the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people, are accorded the gravitas appropriate for matters of national interest.  Nothing is deemed irrelevant; nothing is considered to be of sub-national or supra-national significance.

It is because of the system of proportional representation that we have one and only one Board of Education for the entire country.  In Israel, studying from a uniform set of text-books is as important as maintaining a uniform system of weights and measures.  It is because of the system of proportional representation that we have one and only one motor vehicle licensing authority.  Our political structure simply does not recognize that our country has distinct urban and rural areas.  Or maybe our bureaucrats still harbor the illusion that David Ben-Gurion’s plan to ruralize our society – his vaunted program of de-populating our cities by moving the masses to the countryside, known in Hebrew as min ha’air el ha’kfar – will yet develop.  And it is because of the system of proportional representation that we have one and only one religious services bureau.  The political structure of our democratic State is not able to accommodate itself to the fact that in the modern world religious observance is indistinguishable from each individual citizen’s personal preferences.

Worse yet, proportional representation turns the State itself into a hostage of interest group politics.  As a result of proportional representation, the slimy but necessary art of pork-barrel politics – and I choose my words purposefully – so suitable for deciding matters of low politics, so useful for determining the outcome of conflicts which do not rise to the level of high politics because they do not relate to the sovereign identity of the State, is used to regularly challenge the Jewish identity of our State.

Who can and who cannot pray at the Western Wall is a question of great significance to those of us who value Judaism’s Orthodox traditions and embrace Orthodoxy’s exclusive authority over Judaism’s rituals, myself included.  But the answer to this question is not germane to the Jewish identity of the Jewish State.  Israel’s sovereign authority as the nation-state of the Jewish people will not be enhanced nor diminished by inclusive or restrictive prayer services at the Western Wall.  And the same is true regarding access to our State sponsored ritual baths.  But because of the system of proportional representation, sectoral interest groups configured as political parties, in this case, the non-Zionist Hareidi parties, have the power to topple the government of Israel if it dares to ignore their diktat regarding the use of those ritual baths.

Ritual baths?  Did we build a sovereign Jewish State in order to dictate who can and who cannot immerse themselves in a ritual bath?  Did we sacrifice the lives of thousands of our young men – Jews and non-Jews alike – so that we could hold the keys to the mikva?  Of course not!  And I say that without regard to my personal opinion about who is and who is not a Jew.  In fact, I say that in order to underscore how nationalizing the question of who is and who is not a Jew does not sustain Israel’s identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people.  Rather, it deforms and diminishes that identity.

But most importantly I say that in order to make the following point:  It is the system of proportional representation that compels us to define the Jewish State according to the demographic identity of its citizens, according to the pedigree of each Israeli mother’s womb; according to the condition of each Israeli father’s foreskin.

And it is the system of proportional representation that fuels the illusion that when the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria are granted full citizenship rights, as they must under the One State Solution, they will immediately band together with the Arabs of Israel in order to create a parliamentary bloc that will challenge Israel’s Jewish identity.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Without the system of proportional representation the Arabs of Greater Israel will be forced to abandon their tribal ethos.  And so will the Jews.

Liberated from the vise of proportional representation, the citizens of Greater Israel – Jews and Arabs alike – will behave like the citizens of every other modern liberal democracy in the world:  They will use the power of the democratic ballot in order to improve their lot in life.

But for all of this to happen, Israel – that is Greater Israel – must draw internal boundary lines that will sub-divide the country into distinct territorial districts which will stimulate political allegiances based upon geographical propinquity rather than tribal affinity.  No longer will the Hareidi residents of Betar be able to rely on the Hareidi Rabbis of Bnai Brak in order to bring home the bacon.  No longer will secular Arabs with communist leanings be compelled to join a United List with religious Arabs in thrall to the al-Mahdi in order to pass the electoral threshold.  And no longer will an urbanized daughter of the Etzel High Command be able to appeal to the agra-peasants of the kibbutzim on the basis of their shared disdain for religious Zionism.

That said, boundary lines are not a panacea.  All boundary lines, including internal boundary lines, have the potential to divide rather than unite.  And nothing speaks more vigorously to this point then the history of the United States of America, whose federalist design serves as the model for my analysis and proposal.  In America, it took a bloody civil war in order to establish the superiority of its external boundary lines – the ones that define its sovereign authority – and the inferiority of its internal boundary lines – the ones which separate between and among the juridical powers of the 50 States of the Union.  And it would be worse than tragic if we in Israel would suffer a comparable fate as a consequence of ending the tribalism which the system of proportional representation incessantly spawns.

For this reason, it is imperative that Greater Israel set its external boundary lines – the ones which define its sovereign identity – at the borders of Biblical Israel.  By so doing, those boundary lines will not only delimit the sovereign authority of the secular State.  They will also define its sovereign identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people.  Under such conditions, all other matters will become issues of low politics, whether they are trivial matters of sub-national importance – such as procuring a driver’s license – or critically substantive matters of supra-national importance – such as defining who is and who is not a Jew.

And so, please join me in saying yes to Donald Trump.  All it takes is your willingness to say no to the system of proportional representation.

About the Author
Avi Berkowitz teaches history at the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University, and serves as the Rabbi of the Minyan HaVatikim in the Rimon section of Efrat. He holds a PhD from Columbia University in International Relations, with a specialty in Middle East studies and received his Rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchick. Prior to coming on aliyah, he served as the rabbi of the Community Synagogue in Manhattan's East Village, taught history at the Ramaz Upper School, and was an adjunct Assistant Professor of political science and Middle East studies at CUNY